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LAW CARES TOO MUCH FOR BIOLOGY, NOT ENOUGH ABOUT THE HUMAN SOUL

SHARE LAW CARES TOO MUCH FOR BIOLOGY, NOT ENOUGH ABOUT THE HUMAN SOUL

It's just about over now. The legal moving papers are in order. The change of parental address has been determined. The child has been told.

The very last ditch effort to delay the process that will turn Jessica DeBoer into Anna Schmidt was referred Wednesday (July 28) to the full Supreme Court by Justice Blackmun after a dramatic appeal claiming that she would suffer "unimaginable harm." But if that fails, the only thing left will be the packing.By Monday, in all likelihood, a 2-year-old girl will be transferred from her adoptive family to her biological family, from the people who reared her to the people who conceived her, from those she loves to those she doesn't even know. She'll be moved from Michigan to Iowa like a piece of furniture awarded in a property dispute. Only furniture doesn't feel loss or confusion.

For all the emotion surrounding it, this never was an easy case. In February 1991, an unmarried woman and the man she claimed to be the father gave a baby up for adoption. Weeks later, this despairing and regretful Cara Clausen told the biological father, Dan Schmidt, the truth. He decided to go after the girl, and the adoptive parents decided to fight back.

When Jessica DeBoer becomes Anna Schmidt, the people most deeply affected will be the host of maybe, would-be, might-be adoptive parents all over the country. They will be touched by another fear about adopting children they want to call their own.

What this case raises, after all, is the specter that in some places, in some circumstances, any biological parent who hasn't given up his rights can come in from the cold to claim a child.

In real life rather than courtroom dramas, unwed or `unknown fathers' are rarely anxious for custody or even for identification. Paternity suits are, on the whole, filed by women pursuing men, not by men like Schmidt forging links to their offspring.

But in the law these days, equal rights have sometimes streaked ahead of equal responsibility. We share a powerful cultural desire to promote fatherhood, to nurture the nurturing men. In some places, the law has become too willing to distribute the full rights of fatherhood -even to men who contribute only genes and the labor of lovemaking.

The appearance of a man like Schmidt to stop an adoption and reclaim a child is rare indeed. But there is the real risk that his victory could become another barrier to would-be adoptive parents, to adoption itself. There are too many barriers already. You can count them in the children who languish in foster care.

But for the moment we only know this: Two years ago, an infant went before the courts; now the law has sent a toddler packing. They call this justice. I wonder what Jessica - or should I say, Anna - will call it.